MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If Garrett Greene is unable to play Saturday afternoon when West Virginia welcomes Texas Tech, the Mountaineers will again turn to Nicco Marchiol at quarterback.
The redshirt freshman played all but six offensive snaps during last Saturdays’ 17-6 win over Pitt, and appears in line to make his first career start as Greene works to recover from a right ankle injury that had him in a boot as he took in the remainder of the Backyard Brawl from the sideline.
A highly-touted recruit in the Mountaineers’ 2022 class, Marchiol has played in each of West Virginia’s first three games, albeit in a limited capacity during the September 2 season-opening loss at Penn State. That matches the amount of contests Marchiol appeared in as a true freshman, when his most extensive action came during the season finale as the replacement for an injured Greene in a win at Oklahoma State.
“The way the rules are now, you have to have two ready,” fifth-year WVU head coach Neal Brown said. “Garrett has a lot of passion, so he puts his body at risk sometimes. He got hurt trying to push for extra yards, which he shouldn’t do, but he did. You can’t limit what makes him great.
“But not only because of the way he plays, if you look across college football, a lot of people are playing multiple quarterbacks and there’s a lot more injuries at that position, for whatever reason, than there has been in the past. I was really clear with Nicco about this, and said at some point, you’re going to be called upon.”
The experience Marchiol garnered last season in Stillwater when he played in a driving rainstorm and did his part to manage a 24-19 victory is the perfect reference point to keep the signal-caller in a frame of mind where he’s ready when called upon.
“It’s really easy, because you just point back to the Oklahoma State game where he had to play basically all the snaps in the second half of that game, too,” Brown said. “He’s been prepared and that’s something that we thought about, but not necessarily because of the way Garrett plays — just because the way it’s gone in general.”
Greene lasted only the first six offensive snaps against Pitt before Marchiol took over for the remainder of the night. His numbers were pedestrian (Marchiol finished 6-of-9 passing for 60 yards and with minus-5 rushing yards on nine carries) and the backup quarterback lost a fumble on his own, though it was immediately negated by the first of three interceptions from the Mountaineer defense.
“He’s going to continue to get better. The other night, he did some things really well, but he also did some things that you could tell he’s a redshirt freshman and hasn’t played a whole lot,” Brown said.
In a contest where 51 of West Virginia’s 62 offensive plays were on the ground, Marchiol was credited for managing the game and doing very little that hampered the Mountaineers’ ability to win on a night they prevented Pitt from scoring a touchdown.
After the victory, Brown said he and the offensive staff minimized the play selection, which along with the flow of the game, made it a run-oriented approach that featured plenty of run-pass options.
“We had to make some changes immediately, but the biggest thing, we stuck to the game plan as far as the run game went,” offensive coordinator/running backs coach Chad Scott said. “We kept it really simple with him as far as the pass game and really just stuck to the RPOs that he’s comfortable with.”
With Greene missing at least the first two days of practice in preparation for the Red Raiders, Marchiol operated as the starter and true freshman Sean Boyle was directly behind him. Brown said WVU would work this week to figure out the No. 3 quarterback in the event that Marchiol and Boyle are the top two.
If Marchiol makes his first career start Saturday, the hope is his preparation throughout this week combined with offseason improvement and experience over the last two games leads to a more productive passing attack.
In WVU’s two wins this season over Duquesne and Pitt, Marchiol has combined to complete 13-of-23 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown, while rushing for 6 yards and a score on 14 attempts — numbers skewed from sacks.
“He’ll be a little more prepared to go out there and be able to execute more of the game plan than he’s been able to do in the two times he’s had the opportunity to go in before, because he’ll have all week to prepare for it,” Scott said. “He’s a football junkie. He loves it man. He’ll spend just about every day in this office outside of required time and at position meetings in practice with [quarterbacks] coach [Sean] Reagan going over that game plan. He’ll be able to do a lot more than he has in the two opportunities before knowing he has more time to prepare.”
Although Greene is viewed as more of a running threat than Marchiol, Red Raiders’ head coach Joey McGuire is stressing his team needs to be prepared to face a mobile quarterback either way.
“The starter can really run. I’ve seen him two years in a row to where the run game becomes a factor, but it’s not like if the backup plays that he can’t or he’s not mobile,” McGuire said. “The starter usually has command of the offense and there’s a reason they won the job. We have to prepare for both guys. We will prepare for both guys. We’re lucky they’re similar.
“[Marchiol] did a good job coming into the Pitt game. That game in that area is as big a game as there is, so you could tell he can handle the pressure. Whenever you’re in a close game like they were against Pitt, you have to be able to handle the pressure as a backup and he definitely did.”